Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Designing products for customers
|Developing superior products that are appealing to customers is a central goal of marketing and product design. Companies recognize that they can no longer compete on price alone, and that it is necessary to provide products and services that offer functional, aesthetic and emotional value for consumers.
One way to achieve superior products is through design. But how do designers design? What type of design thinking is involved? User-centered design and design-driven innovation are two strategies that help managers and design practitioners develop superior products that appeal to consumers. These two strategies are philosophically opposite to each other.
User-centered design refers to an approach where designers get close to end users to better understand their needs. It involves the use of end-users as a source of product innovation, and one commonly used technique to interface with end users is design ethnography. For example, the design firm IDEO interviews end users to discover problems that people may face in everyday life. Through iterative rounds of observations and focus groups, IDEO generates, develops and refines product solutions. For IDEO, what is important is that the product solution solves a usability problem. Whether the product solution expresses the IDEO brand and house style is a secondary concern.
Design-driven innovation rejects the focus on user requirements in favor of pushing the firm’s vision about possible new product meanings and languages that could diffuse in society. Some techniques associated with design-driven innovation are market visioning, creative collaborations and the use of analogical thinking. For example, Bang and Olufsen do zero customer research. Instead, the company encourages their designers to use their imagination to develop innovative products that are aligned with the brand and house style.
It is currently unknown which approach is the most effective in generating designs that have value for consumers. My intuition is that a utilitarian approach that focuses on ergonomics would be better for functional products, such as power saws and kitchen appliances. A design-driven innovation approach that focuses on imagination and fantasies may be more effective for hedonic products such as toys, service environments and automobiles.